Skin A Mike Hammer Story

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A DUTTON GUILT EDGED MYSTERY Published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.); Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England; Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd); Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd); Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi–110 017, India; Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd); Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Published by Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. First printing, July 2012 Copyright © 2012 by TK All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions. REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA ISBN 978-1-101-59538-1 PUBLISHER'S NOTE This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

[Pearson Branding Line]





A week before his death, Mickey Spillane told his wife, Jane, “When I’m gone, there’s going to be a treasure hunt around here. Take everything you find and give it to Max—he’ll know what to do.” I can imagine no greater honor. Half a dozen substantial Mike Hammer novel manuscripts were found among a wealth of unpublished material. So far I have completed four of these, most recently Lady, Go Die! (Titan Books). Three shorter novel manuscripts were also in Mickey’s files, but also seven or eight shorter manuscripts that may have also have been intended to be first chapters or possibly were the starts of short stories. From these fragments I have gradually been developing short stories. I think Mickey would be pleased to return to Dutton with Mike Hammer for the relaunch of the line that he was so instrumental in making successful. Mickey apparently began this story around 2005, so it should be viewed as one of Mike Hammer’s last cases before his retirement at the end of The Goliath Bone (2008), chronologically the final Hammer novel.



If it weren’t for the hand lying next to the carnage wreaked on a human body, you would have thought it was roadkill that half a dozen vehicles had rolled over. This was something out of a war zone, not what you expected to find just off the highway in rural upstate New York. A glistening string of tendon seeped into splintered bone, a grisly signpost that this had been a body, a living, viable human animal. Now it was barely identifiable as something that used to think and talk. Unless that lonely hand’s fingerprints had something to say. Pat Chambers, captain of Homicide back in the city, gave me one of those long, steady stares I had been on the receiving end of for decades. He was a big guy, like me, his suit less rumpled than mine, and we were rare holdouts who still stuck hats on our aging skulls. “How’d you find this, Mike?” I had to shrug. “Sure as hell wasn’t looking for it. Something caught my eye, driving by.” This was a late September afternoon and cool. A low hanging sun ricocheted off the dying trees of the nearby woods. We were on our way back from an event at the Police Academy and had taken separate cars, but I’d wanted to get there early and talk to an instructor who was about to retire. We were cadets together. A long time ago. “Great. Just swell.” Pat kept staring at me, those gray-blue eyes barely blinking. “The bushes here cover that mess up pretty well. From a moving car going in either direction, it’s damn near invisible. And yet it caught your eye?” I shook my head. “I didn’t make that thing from the highway.” I pointed near the roadside. “There was a dog there, stretched out pointer fashion, and shivering like it had tripped over a puma. Had its teeth bared, and I sure knew something was up.” “And that was enough to make you stop your car.” “Hey, I still got reflexes in my old age! I jammed on my brakes, pulled over, and got out.”



That smile of his was damn near a sneer. “What if it had been a puma?” I patted under my arm where the holstered .45 lived. “Anyway,” I said, and shrugged, “the mutt took its eyes away, spotted me, and ran. If it had been a puma, Rover would have just backed off slowly.” He sighed. “So you had a look.” “Right.” “And now we’re in the middle of this and won’t get back for hours.” “So I’m a good citizen.” He nodded toward the mess. “And what did you think when you saw . . . that?” “Figured somebody fell out of a plane.” “You still think so?” I let out a grunt and shook my head. “Couldn’t have been. A body would have splashed. Would’ve come in at an angle and likely got torn up by those trees.” “Maybe that’s what’s left of an animal’s supper.” I shook my head. “A predator wouldn’t dine roadside. And if it made its attack in the woods, over there, this mess would’ve stayed there. Anyway, no animal did this.” “You sound sure.” “Well, a human animal maybe. But not anything that lives in those woods.” “Yeah? Why?” I showed him my teeth. “Too much meat left.” I shook my head again. “This body was dumped here.” Pat took a step closer and inspected the ball of entrails, then stepped back. “Somebody carried it in his arms, you think?” “Like a bride over the threshold? That would have been messy. Imagine what would get on your clothes. Of course, the thing might have been wrapped up in plastic. Or maybe the killer used a big



shopping bag. Or butcher paper.” “You’re talking killer already?” “Somebody dead got dumped. That spells killer.” Pat didn’t argue, eyes searching the area. “You’re probably right that this body was conveyed somehow. No drag marks.” “Real professional.” “How about magical,” Pat muttered. “I knew we should have come up here in one car. You just cannot be left to your own devices. No, instead you have to leave first, and I have to stop like a good goddamn Samaritan because I think you have a flat or something.” I showed him a small grin. “You couldn’t abandon me out in the sticks, buddy, and get a good night’s sleep.” “I’ll get a good night’s sleep after viewing this mess of meat?” I laughed at him. “Hey, at least no local cop is going to be hauling me over the coals. You have a badge to back me up with an alibi.” He growled sarcastically, “Oh, you’re so famous they know you outside New York City, I suppose?” “Oh yeah,” I said, “they know me. They have television up here and everything.” Then I let out a little chuckle. “They may even have heard of you. How about that?” “Yeah, how about that.” His tone was sour. I put my hand on his shoulder. “Lighten up, Pat. Didn’t you like my pep talk to those rookies? Hell, didn’t I play you up, big-time?” He smirked. “Yeah, thanks. Your talk of an ‘impending, much-overdue promotion’ can rattle a few cages up the food chain, pal. It’s bad enough even being mentioned in the same breath with you.” “So they’ve heard of me up the food chain, then? You know, I’ve mostly been staying out of trouble in my golden years.”



I moved in for a closer look at the scarlet and splintered white and stringy mess, with slithery things weaving them together and unidentifiable strips of hair and gristle poking out of impossible places. You used to be somebody, I thought. Hell, so did I. I said, “You’d better quit pouting and call in the troops, buddy. The local newspaper will pick up the call, too, most likely. And having a police photog out here fast won’t do a bit of harm, either.” Under his breath Pat said something unintelligible. While he got out his cell and made the call, the thought of photos sent me to my car, where I got the digital camera and shot a dozen color photos of the mangled pile of human body parts and the area around it. I put the camera back and waited there with Pat for the locals to show. It took hardly any time for the black-and-white to roll up to us. Two guys got out, both in uniform—a heavyset middle-aged sergeant and a skinny young patrolman. Pat flashed his NYPD badge, and the sergeant nodded politely and said, “Captain.” He held out his hand and Pat took it. “Mal Tooney,” the older cop said. “We were right up the road when the call came in. The other crew should be here in a few minutes. Where’s the body?” Pat indicated the direction with a nod and the sergeant and his young driver followed him into the brush. I tagged after. We didn’t have to go in very far at all. The well-seasoned sergeant took in a deep breath and swallowed. His young partner just puked. “Ever see anything like that before?” I asked the older cop, keeping the grin down. “Not like that,” Sergeant Tooney said. “You?” “A couple of times,” I told him. Then explained, “A few wars ago.” “I’ve seen some car crash victims pretty torn up,” he said as he took off his cap and brushed back what hair he had left. “But this? Damn.”



The patrolman was still puking. Lot in his stomach, for a skinny kid. Finally, sheepishly, he wiped his mouth and turned his head away. “I’m new at this,” he admitted. “You’ll get used to it,” Pat told him. Used to frequent death and everyday gore, maybe. But getting used to running across something this ghastly? Not bloody likely, as the Brits say. Both of us gave an initial report to the sergeant while the rookie jotted it down in detail. Just as we finished, another squad car drove up with a white station wagon tagging behind. The call letters of a television station were emblazoned on the doors, and a young guy in jeans and a sweatshirt with the same call letters jumped out of the passenger side with a shoulder-mounted TV camera that sat there like a robotic second head. The driver got out slowly, one of those impossible beauties who seem to have taken over the bright spots on the networks, and if looks and style were anything, this tall, lovely brunette in a formfitting blue pantsuit was well on her way to the big studios in Manhattan. I grinned at Pat. “Looks like we’re going to make the evening news on this one.” Pat put out an arm and held me back, getting me out of the way. Seemed the young cameraman was real eager. He was moving fast, an eye glued to the viewfinder, as he rushed in for the shot, took his eye away for one second while he scoped the terrible sight in front of him, then vomited all over himself. He gave a pathetic little look around him and, out of sheer desperation, triggered the camera and tilted forward to capture the whole scene in glaring color. Pat and I exchanged looks as the sick smell wafted its way to us. We both knew no TV station manager would allow that kind of thing to go on the air, not without pixelating it beyond recognition. Maybe it would find its way to the Internet for all the horror lovers out there. The lovely newscaster came over to us and introduced herself. Her skin had an ivory glow in an afternoon giving way to dusk. “Melodie Anderson, Eyewitness News. Why, you’re Mike Hammer!”



I gave Pat a nasty little sideways grin, and he smirked and shook his head. “In the flesh,” I said. Her smile was flirtatious. “You don’t look a day over fifty.” At my age, that was a compliment. But she was immediately embarrassed, thinking she’d insulted me. “Sorry,” she said. “My late father was in the news business, too. He covered a lot of your stories, years ago. He thought you were a great guy.” Pat said, “That’s because Mr. Hammer here used to generate a lot of news.” Her eyes were a lovely light hazel. “And you’re Pat Chambers! Captain Chambers.” Now it was Pat’s turn to give me a self-satisfied look. I said, “If what you’re saying is that I’m old enough to be your father, doll, I plead guilty.” The “doll” amused her. “Is that right?” “That’s right. That’s the bad news. The good news is, I’m not your father.” That made her laugh, and Pat shook his head, muttering something to the effect that I would never change. Her gaze hopped from me to Pat and back again. “Are you gentlemen willing to be interviewed on camera?” I said yes and Pat said no, but finally he came around, qualifying it, “No speculation on what this is or what might have happened here. Just the facts.” “Like Dragnet,” I said. “Used to watch that show on TV Land,” she said, “when I was a kid.” Ouch. So she interviewed us, and we kept it factual, and afterward the locals wanted to talk to Pat, and the brunette newscaster took me gently by the arm and walked me away a ways. “It’s just a coincidence,” she said, “Mike Hammer coming on to what might be a murder scene?”



“Just a coincidence. Now, if I were coming on to you, that would be premeditated.” “Would you be surprised if I said I had a thing for older men?” “More like relieved. But, doll, I’m taken. Engaged.” “Long engagement?” “When were you born?” She told me. I said, “Before that.” That made her blink, then she smiled again. “I don’t want to date you, Mr. Hammer. Or if I do, I’ll respect your . . . long engagement. But I do want to know what you think happened here.” “Off the record?” “Off the record, if that’s all I can get.” “Honey, I don’t have a clue. Let the high-tech boys have a swing at that mess over there. They’ll come up with something.” “We don’t have oddities like this around here every day, Mr. Hammer.” “It’s Mike. No, I suppose you don’t. Which makes this a big story.” She nodded her head and her slightly shellacked hair bounced a tad. “Last story anything like this was over a year ago. I doubt it got covered in the big city. We had a spate of grave robberies. Over a period of three years, maybe . . . two, three a year. Then they stopped.” “Random stuff? The graves, I mean. Just any old grave?” “New ones. Always the graves of women. Attractive women who’d died young, in their twenties, none older than forty. I understand that . . . that heap over there is something quite apart, but it’s still an odd, grisly, horror show kind of thing.” “That wasn’t a woman,” I said, with a nod toward the terrible corpse. “You’re sure?” “Well, that’s a man’s hand.”



“I . . . I didn’t take as close a look as I probably should have. Mr. Hammer . . . Mike . . . when the police lab reports come in, and we know more, I may want to consult with you.” I got a card out and handed it to her. It had my office and cell number on it. She tucked it in her purse, gave me hers with similar info. Then in a friendly but businesslike way, she gave me her hand, and I took it. It was a lot more attractive that the dead guy’s.

Velda, standing in the middle of the reception area of our two-room office, used a remote to turn up the sound on the oversized wall screen. She was my secretary, partner, and fiancée all wrapped up in one beautiful raven-haired bundle. She looked like every older dame wished she did, and even past fifty she could make a white blouse and black skirt seem like something out of Victoria’s Secret. She listened to me being interviewed, commented that I’d been right—they pixelated that mess of a corpse before coming back to the pantsuited gorgeous gal who wore a properly somber frown. Melodie Anderson was standing near the gruesome discovery, and Velda and I both caught the moment the newswoman took, during her wrap-up, where she half-turned so nobody would see her swallow deeply to keep from throwing up herself. Velda said, “Sensitive, isn’t she?” “They don’t get much of that upstate,” I said. “Where do they, exactly? Let’s take a look at those shots you got.” She walked to her desk, where she could click through the images on her computer screen. I had taken one close-up of the hand and she was focusing on that. I said, “Pat expects an ID tonight. If the prints are registered.” “You ever see a corpse in that condition?” she asked me. I leaned in to look over her shoulder at the screen. “I’ve been at a couple of plane crash sites. Saw my share of bodies all mashed together. Looked something like this, yeah. But then, at least, the pieces



were fairly recognizable. This kill mixes chunks with coarse hamburger.” “Except for the hand,” Velda said softly. “Except for where it was cut off from the wrist. That was nice and neat.” “How neat?” “Like they used to say about Jack the Ripper—almost surgical.” The lovely dark eyes narrowed. “Are you sure that tendon was attached to the rest of the . . . pile?” I shook my head. “We didn’t disturb anything. Pat had to get back, so we gave the cops all that we could and left.” “And Pat will give them a full report, I suppose.” “You know Pat, kitten.” Velda backed away from the monitor and turned toward me as I leaned in. She ran her fingers down my cheek. “And I know you, lover.” “Think so?” “Absolutely.” “Spell it out.” “This is one you haven’t had before. It’s squeezing you already, isn’t it? Mike Hammer can’t drop this, like he should, and let the official world of policedom do its job, can he?” “Hey, I found the body, doll.” “If you call that a body.” “You want me to forget about it?” I asked her. Velda gave me that sly look I knew all too well. Her full-lipped mouth was wet and smiled up at me until I saw the edges of her teeth and the sudden flick of her tongue between them. “Never gave that a thought, big guy,” she said. “You can go play with that gory mess all you want. Get your name in the papers some more, like old times. I bet that brunette on the news already has a big crush on you. Daddy issues, maybe.”



“Aw, Velda, cut me a break . . .” She tapped my nose with the tip of her forefinger. “Just let her know that I’m one of your retirement benefits.” My hands went around her waist and as I started to draw her near me, the phone rang. Pat said, “Mike . . . glad I caught you. Listen, those locals sent that mess our way, for processing. The lab has already come up with some interesting stuff.” “What have you got, buddy?” “Still waiting on a report. Look, have you eaten?” “No. Why, shall we grab some steak tartar?” “Very funny. Why don’t you and Velda meet me at the French House in a couple of hours.” It must not have been a question because Pat hung up. I filled Velda in about our new plans for the evening. We both decided we’d take time to freshen up before going out and were halfway out of the office when the phone rang again. “Let the machine get it,” I said, and I was just shutting the door when I recognized the voice coming in. “Mr. Hammer, it’s Melodie Anderson, Eyewitness News. Please call me at—” “Ms. Anderson,” I said, grabbing the phone off Velda’s desk. “I’m here.” Velda came strolling back in, then deposited herself a few feet from me in a Valkyrie-like stance with her arms folded and her smirk knowing. “Daddy,” she murmured. “Mr. Hammer,” the reporter said, “I was hoping to talk to you tonight. I think I may be on to something. Jason, that’s my cameraman, and I are still out chasing down some leads. But I could use your help.” “You want me to come to you?” “No, I can come into the city. We just have one more stop before calling it a night.”



So I invited her to join us at the French House, giving her the address, and she said she might be a little late but to wait for her. I hung up and grinned at Velda. “She’s joining us tonight. You can warn her off in person.” An eyebrow arched. “Yeah? Well, if you go playing daddy with that babe, buster, Mommy’s gonna spank.” “Promises promises,” I said, and we headed to her apartment to freshen up. I keep some clothes there. I said it was a long engagement.

The French House had nothing to do with French cuisine. This was an out-of-the way place, strictly deli fare, in a rough patch not far from the Times Square theater district. Velda and I were already on one side of the booth when Pat showed up, a few minutes later, and slid in opposite. “That hand with the remains,” he said. “It didn’t belong there.” Velda said, “Well, hello to you, too, Pat. I’m fine, thanks.” “Hi, Velda,” he said, and smiled awkwardly. He still had a thing for her. Then he looked at me and there wasn’t any awkwardness in it at all. “Prints came in with an ID. It’s a missing person. A famous one.” “Yeah?” I said, chewing a corner of my corned-beef-and-Swiss sandwich. “As famous as us, buddy?” “At least. Victor King, the Broadway producer.” Velda had no smart remarks to make now. She put her cheeseburger down and leaned forward. “What’s it been, a month? He went off for a meeting somewhere and never got there.” “And never came back,” Pat said. “Know where that meeting was?” “Upstate New York,” I said through another bite. “You don’t impress easily. How about this? That hand was starting to decompose.” “Didn’t look like it,” I said, chewing.



“The lab boys actually have some microscopes that can see things your ancient eyes can’t.” “These ancient eyes are twenty-twenty, Pat. Spill it. The big surprise.” He seemed disappointed I sensed that something else was coming. But I knew him like he knew me. “That hand,” he said, “didn’t belong to that pile of fresh ground chuck. . . . Sorry, Velda.” She put down her cheeseburger again. “They can tell this,” I said, using a napkin, “because the pile wasn’t decomposing. It was fresh.” “That’s part of it,” Pat admitted. “But things have come a long way in the detection game since Sherlock Holmes used his first magnifying glass and you throttled your first suspect.” “Yeah?” “That pile of . . . stuff. That wasn’t Victor King.” “Blood type didn’t match?” “I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s leave it at this: The hand belonged to a man. Everything else was female.”

That had been Pat’s last big surprise, but the evening held one more: Melodie Anderson didn’t show. We waited till near eleven, with me on the cell phone trying the various numbers on the card she’d given me. Nothing. I finally tried her station and got through to the news desk, but she was out. I asked for her home number and was refused. “Listen,” I said to the young-sounding guy, “I got a bad feeling about this. Call her at home, check that she’s okay, and tell her Mike Hammer’s trying to get in touch with her.” “Okay, dude! Okay.” Dude. But he did call back, sounding mildly worried himself. “No answer,” he said. “I left a message. Sorry. I’ll leave a note for her to call you when she comes



in tomorrow.” I thanked him. We were still in the booth, working on a third round of beers. “Don’t worry about the girl,” Pat said. “She probably had a big story come in and got caught up in it. You’ll hear from her.” I didn’t remind him that the small upstate burg where she lived and worked was damn short on big stories. A pile of human flesh on the roadside was about as big as it got. That, and grave-robbing. “Listen,” Pat said, pushing aside a mostly finished beer, “there’s an aspect of this I haven’t gone into. I hesitate to, because I shouldn’t be encouraging you.” “King’s wife is a suspect,” I said. “Damn you, anyway! How do you know that?” “Because the letch got married for the fourth time last year. He was fifty-nine and the blushing bride, what? Twenty-five? She probably signed a prenup, and the only way she inherits is if her husband kicks it.” Pat’s eyes were half-lidded. “Which makes her a suspect.” “Not if he just disappears. Unless she doesn’t mind a seven-year wait before King is declared legally dead.” “Only now he is dead. Now that that hand has turned up.” “That doesn’t make him dead.” Pat eyes weren’t half-lidded anymore. “That’s right. That pile of flesh wasn’t him. So what are you going to do, Mike? Wade into this?” I handed him the check. “What do you think I’m gonna do? Play the hand I got dealt.”

The next morning, around ten, I was sitting in the lavish living room of Victor King’s penthouse



apartment on upper Fifth Avenue, with a view on Central Park. The furnishings were vintage art deco and what wasn’t white was black, and what wasn’t blond wood was chrome, and everything had curves. Including Mrs. King, who was also blond. As expected, she was a very lovely twenty-five or so; the stark red of her silk pajamas matched her finger- and toenails, jumping out at me like the devil against the white of the couch, her legs crossed, a hand caressing a knee. Her mouth was similarly red, but her eyes were baby blue with blue eye shadow and a sleepy look, like a cheerleader on her third beer after the big game. I couldn’t imagine any man wanting to sleep with her, unless he was heterosexual and had a pulse. The funny thing was, she was wearing the same sexy red pj’s in an oversize, elaborately framed photographic portrait of her husband and herself over a white marble fireplace. Victor King was in some kind of yachting outfit and had Ricardo Montalban hair and the kind of tan the sun has nothing to do with. In the picture she was seated, with her chin up and smiling a little, knowing what she had, and he was standing next to her, with an arm around the top of the chair, not his wife, like he knew what he had, too. But the picture couldn’t capture her best feature—luminous, creamy skin that damn near glowed. I supposed someday nature or old age would catch up to her and draw some lines in, but right now it was smooth. So very smooth, drawn tight over apple cheeks in a way plastic surgeons could only envy. She must have caught me looking from her to the portrait behind her, and she grinned. Suddenly she looked like the kid she must have been before she realized she could parlay her looks into money, if not on the stage then from some sugar daddy. “Victor has three more of those,” she said, and her voice was breathy and childish, although unlike the outfit it was no act, “in storage somewhere. Wives numbers one, two, and three.” “Were they wearing red jammies, too?” That stopped her for a second and then she laughed. She snorted when she laughed, which made her suddenly human.



“I guess I was trying to make a point,” she said, and gestured to herself, her breasts making two points, actually, under the silk. “Victor was happy with me, Mr. Hammer. He wasn’t running around on me. Would you?” “No,” I admitted, “but I don’t put on Broadway musicals with tons of cute kiddos in the chorus. That’s where he found you, right? And numbers one through three?” “Number one was his high school sweetheart, actually,” she said. “I’m going to smoke. Would you like to? I picture you smoking.” “Go ahead. But none for me, thanks. I gave up cigarettes a long, long time ago. Probably why I’m still on this side of the grass.” I bet myself she would use a cigarette holder and won. It made her look even more like a kid playing dress-up. I waited for her to blow a smoke ring, then said, “I appreciate the phone call, Mrs. King, and the offer of employment. But I already have a case.” “Isn’t it the same case? The papers were having a lot of fun this morning with you discovering Victor’s body.” Had Pat or anyone official told her yet that the hand was her husband’s, but that grisly ball of kibbles and bits wasn’t? Should I? “Mr. Hammer, there’s been a lot of speculation that Victor was running around on me. I assure you he wasn’t.” “You seem confident.” “Victor was not a young man. I serviced him at least once a day.” “Service with a smile?” “Service with variety and imagination, and if he had the energy and ability to seek more fun elsewhere, more power to him.”



My chair probably won a prize at the New York World’s Fair in ’39, but I shifted in it, looking for a comfortable position, and wasn’t that good a detective. “Mrs. King, why would you tolerate your husband running around on you? Assuming he did find the energy and ability.” Her smile wouldn’t have been one were it any smaller. “Mr. Hammer, I am an adequate dancer in a town full of great ones, and my singing is only so-so. As an actress, I’m pretty good, but no Streep. I could eke out an existence on Broadway in bit parts and chorus-line gigs, for a while, but then it would be back to Minot, North Dakota, for me. And you know what, Mr. Hammer? Minot, North Dakota, is goddamn cold.” “I bet it is.” “I like my life with Victor. I wish I could have him back.” Maybe, but not to where there were any tears in those baby blues or any quaver in that breathy baby voice. “But if he’s dead,” she said, matter-of-factly, “I inherit everything. He, uh, never had any children . . .” Except the ones he married. “. . . and has no close relatives. So it would be all mine.” “Which is a hell of a murder motive.” She nodded, struck a regal pose worthy of Jean Harlow. I wondered if she knew who Jean Harlow was. “But I didn’t kill him,” she said, “or have him killed, either. The police have been hounding me for this whole month that Victor’s been missing, and the papers just love the story.” “I don’t remember them making a suspect out of you.” “No, but they will, now that his body has turned up.” What the hell. She had a right to know.



“Don’t tell the cops I told you,” I said, sitting forward, “but that body wasn’t your husband.” Her eyes popped. “What?” “The hand belonged to him,” I said, and filled her in. She put the cigarette-in-holder in a tray and got up and began to pace. Then she planted herself before me and asked, “Could he still be alive?” “Do you want him to be?” Her eyes and nostrils flared. “Yes! I love him. You don’t have to believe me, but a young woman can love an older man. It is possible.” What was it Velda said? Daddy issues. “You wanted to hire me for something,” I said, gesturing for her to sit back down. She did, both feet on the floor now, sitting on the edge of a couch cushion with hands clasped in her lap. “I wanted you to look into his murder. I wanted you to clear me. But what does this mean, his hand being found next to that . . . that thing?” “I don’t know. I’ll be honest with you, kid. I was going to look into it for nothing.” “Why?” “Because it’s not good for business for Mike Hammer to find corpses on the roadside and just go on about his way. Certain things are expected of me.” She smiled a little. “Like certain things are expected of a woman who looks like me?” “Time was,” I said with a wistful sigh, “somebody who looks like you was a ‘girl.’ Now it’s politically incorrect. Now you’re a woman. And you’ll need to be.” “Why?” I stood. “Because I don’t figure there’s any way this can turn out in a good way for you. Or your husband. Especially your husband.” She rose. “If Victor is dead, and you clear me, that would be a good thing. A good thing worth ten thousand dollars from me to you.”



Thirty years ago, hell, twenty years ago, I might have negotiated for a different kind of payment. And even now thoughts stirred—she liked older men, she knew how to keep them satisfied. In my mind, all that red satin was a puddle and all that luminous skin was in my arms, in my hands. . . . “Ten grand will be fine,” I said. “It’ll go a long way toward my retirement.”

I sat across from Sergeant Mal Tooney in a booth in a diner about five miles from where I’d found Victor King’s hand next to that ghastly pile. “I’m glad to meet with you, Mr. Hammer,” he said. “Because I am concerned.” The heavyset cop had a cup of black coffee in front of him but hadn’t touched it. He was in uniform, his cap off, exposing his dying hair. By way of contrast, his eyebrows were wild, shaggy patches. I had called Tooney from the office this morning, before taking the meeting with Mrs. King, to ask him to check up on the absent Melodie Anderson. I’d already tried the TV station, and she hadn’t shown up for work. Neither had her cameraman. Calls from the station manager to both had come up bupkes. I asked Tooney to look into it. That was this morning in New York. This was that afternoon, upstate. “I checked both the Anderson woman’s house and this Jason kid’s apartment,” he said. “Talked to neighbors, got the super to let me in the kid’s place. No sign of either of them.” “They were in a TV station van.” “Yes, and it’s still signed out to them. Both their cars are in the station’s parking lot. Listen, this could be bad.” “Yeah. Can you rally the troops?” “Not for twenty-four hours I can’t. They aren’t missing persons yet. But considering what we . . . what you . . . found yesterday? I just have a bad, sick feeling.” A waitress came over and refilled my coffee, which made Tooney remember his. He sipped it.



“Sarge,” I said, “I know for a fact Melodie Anderson was running down leads on this thing. She told me so. I think she may have been on to something—she didn’t show for a meeting with me last night.” “She really could be in trouble.” “She could be dead,” I said. I stirred sweetener and half-and-half in. “She mentioned something about grave robberies in this neck of the woods.” He frowned and the shaggy eyebrows met, making one big caterpillar. “That goes back a while. There was a string of ’em, but the latest was over a year ago. Why, you think what you found was a dugup corpse?” “No. That was fresh meat.” An old gal in the booth behind Tooney turned and gave me a dirty look. “And the lab reports,” I went on, giving her a wink, “didn’t mention anything like embalming procedures having been done. But maybe the Anderson girl had a hunch there was a connection, so any leads she was chasing down could have had something to do with that.” “Well, it was young women’s corpses,” he said, “exclusively. I just figured it was some nut who liked to have sex with dead bodies. What do they call those guys?” The gal and her companion, another biddy, huffed and got up and left. They may have been disgusted with us, but they sure finished their food first. “Necrophiliacs,” I said. Tooney’s shaggy eyebrows were in two pieces again and climbing up his forehead. “You know, we had this report . . . screwy report . . . from some kids a while back. Maybe . . . three months ago?” “Yeah?” “Well, I never took it too seriously. They were just high school kids who were hanging out at a local cemetery at midnight, drinking and fooling around. That’s a place where kids do that, sometimes, just a quiet place where they can party.”



“Who’s to complain?” “Right. Only, the cemetery did complain, and I went over there in a squad and we rounded up half a dozen kids, and they were pretty high.” “Liquor or dope?” “Some of both. Anyway, there were enough of ’em that we had to call for a van. And while we were waiting, they started in on, ‘What are you giving us a bad time for? Why don’t you round up that looney tunes?’ I said, ‘What looney tunes?’ And these kids claimed that they sneaked up on this guy who was dancing around naked in the moonlight.” “Okay. You have my interest, Sarge.” “The guy was dancing to some kind of classical music on an old cassette player, and just doing some wild, crazy dance in and around the tombstones. Throwing his arms up and around. Reckless abandon, like.” “Naked.” “Well, that’s what they said, at first. But two of the kids said he wasn’t naked. That he was naked under some kind of . . . skin.” “Skin?” “Like he skinned somebody and stitched it up into some kind of crazy, awful outfit.” “A human skin.” “That’s what two of the kids said, Mr. Hammer. And not just a human skin.” “Huh?” “A woman’s skin.” And now the people in the booth behind me left, too.

What sort of leads would Melodie Anderson and her cameraman be following up? That cemetery maybe? But the manager of the Life Transition Center at Greenwood Memorial said



Melodie Anderson hadn’t come around yesterday afternoon. “Or if she did,” he said, in the mellow baritone of a preacher, which probably came in handy dealing with the bereaved, “we failed to make contact. An internment had my full attention into the early evening.” I was sitting across from the shrunken little guy in a small modern office off a much larger showroom of cremation urns and coffins, bronze markers, and granite memorials. It was like a ghoulish gift shop here at the Life Transition Center. I’d helped my share of miscreants make their life transitions, but I didn’t feel at home. The manager’s desk was neat and so was he, no mortician black for this character, just earth tones, like the copper sweater and tan shirt with burnt-orange tie. His eyes were sleepy and brown in a face shaped like an acorn squash. I asked, “Have there been any other reports of this crazy guy dancing around in the moonlight?” He pursed his lips in a skeptical smile. “Mr. Hammer, a man of your experience should hardly take seriously some wild tale concocted by drunken little twerps.” And then he was off on a bitch fest about how much trouble these local kids caused, partying on his grounds. “Your night watchman,” I said, “hasn’t reported anything similar to what those kids said?” “Mr. Hammer, we don’t have a night watchman. A security company makes regular rounds after hours. We’re just another business on their schedule.” “A patrol vehicle?” “That is correct.” “Regular rounds?” “I believe so.” “So somebody could time those trips and take advantage to disturb one of your graves, or put on a bare-ass dance recital.”



He shrugged his lack of concern. “The last grave disturbance was over a year ago.” Then the sleepy eyes woke up. “But those damn kids are drinking and getting high and fornicating every time I turn around!” I tried to remember the last time I heard “fornicating” used in conversation and couldn’t. “Maybe they’ve learned to time those trips, too,” I suggested. He had no opinion. I thanked him and soon had made a transition out into a fall afternoon turned crisp and cold. Perfect weather for football. Or Halloween.

I was in my car, pulled off the side of the road about where I had been yesterday. No Pat Chambers to discuss things with this time. Just me and some thoughts, tumblers turning but refusing to unlock their secret. What kind of leads had that lovely reporter tracked, if she hadn’t tried the cemetery? Somebody had carried, not dragged, that mangled body through the nearby woods. Who might have seen that? A hunter? Maybe a farmer on a nearby spread? Melodie might have tooled that TV station van around to the nearest side road and stopped to knock on farmhouse doors. This was harvest time, though, and she might find nobody home. Or maybe she did find somebody home. I had another two hours of daylight, but I got the pocket flash from the glove compartment and dropped it in my suit’s coat pocket, just in case. I was going exploring and how long I’d be and where I’d wind up, who could say? And like any good jungle explorer, I had an elephant gun along—the Colt .45 automatic variety, designed for military use a long time ago. Starting where the chewed-up body had been dumped, I found a nearby spot in the bushes that provided something of a path. If those sorry remains had been in plastic or otherwise wrapped, there



would be no blood trail to follow. But the brush was thick enough that you could see where someone had moved through, snapping twigs underfoot and branches on either side. Only a few minutes later, I was in the trees, where crushed leaves on the forest floor marked recent passage. Had a madman walked naked through these trees with a package of human meat wrapped up in a tidy bundle? Or had he been clothed—perhaps in the skin of the very victim whose mangled remains he meant to discard? But he was doing more than just discarding those remains. That was the one thing I had figured out. That hand, from a previous victim, was left with what had been a living, breathing woman by a killer sophisticated enough to know that the papers were full of efforts to find that previous victim. But that killer was not sophisticated enough to realize things like DNA tests and other laboratory forensics could determine that the hand and the corpse did not go together. That made an awful, terrible sense, but it did not explain where the rest of victim number one had gone to—the man who belonged to that hand. My client’s husband—Victor King. It was about ten minutes from the roadside to the end of the trees. Now I found myself at the edge of a harvested cornfield, like a scarecrow who had wandered off his beat. To the right, I could make out the tops of a farmhouse, a silo, a barn. Walking along between where the line of trees stopped and the field began, I made my way there. The farmhouse was probably one hundred years old but wore a facelift of siding that dated back maybe twenty. The English-style gabled barn was gray weathered wood but sturdy-looking. The silo was by far the newest of the structures. No sign of farm animals, though I spotted a new-looking tractor and a sizable thresher and other well-maintained equipment near the harvested field that stretched everywhere. No cars were visible on the gravel apron around the house, nor was there any sign of activity. A driveway angled through the trees to a gravel road that would give access to the highway. This appeared to be a normal, small, prosperous working farm.



I figured maybe I would just go knock on the door, but that was when I noticed something in the thicket just off the gravel apron—something metallic that glinted off the dying sun. I went over and had a look, peeling back leafy branches, some thorny, to do so. The TV station van was tucked back there. Not parked—hidden away. All its doors were locked. I looked in the windows to see if I could spot any blood or sign of struggle, or even a body. Nothing. Through the van’s rear windows I could make out valuable video production equipment. Somehow I didn’t think Melodie Anderson and her camera guy, Jason, were in that house doing an interview about the struggle of the small family farmer in the face of corporate farming. Dusk had turned the landscape a cool blue, lending it an unreality, and the idyllic nature of the farm seemed worthy of a sentimental print you might buy in a mall frame shop. Yet I could feel something wrong, a feeling admittedly fueled by the discovery of that van, but also a prickling of the hairs on the back of my neck that came from years of dealing with dangerous situations. With no sign of a vehicle, nobody seemed to be home. My suit coat hanging open for easy access to the .45, I decided to find out. I knocked on the front door and rang the bell. Nothing. I did the same in back. Again, nothing. Over at the barn, the big doors were padlocked shut; looking in the windows did no good—they were wire-and-glass jobs that didn’t reveal anything in the dark space. Returning to the house, I tried the back, and it was locked. But I could see the door wasn’t completely closed—the wood was warped enough to make it stick, and the lock hadn’t caught. A shoulder easily pushed my way in, no harm done. The kitchen was clean, probably remodeled in the ’70s. The refrigerator was empty but for milk and beer and some cold cuts. The wastebasket revealed fast-food sacks and Chinese restaurant cartons. Somebody here existed on carry-out, only this kitchen had none of the slovenly aftermath that often accompanied that lifestyle.



As I prowled the place—with my .45 in hand—, slow, careful, listening for any sound that wasn’t made by me, I found rooms that were so clean, nobody seemed to live here. The TV in the living room was circa the ’70s or ’80s, and none of the furniture looked any newer, though a baby grand seemed much older. A fireplace had a bearskin rug in front of it, and on the mantel were framed photographs of a jug-eared, buck-toothed boy posing alternately with his mother and father. Mom would pose with the boy, seated next to him or standing nearby, with the funny-looking kid playing various musical instruments—a violin, a flute, and that baby grand. Mom had given him the big cow eyes, but she was otherwise very attractive—handsome, like they used to say. The pictures with his father, who had bequeathed the kid those jug ears, were all posed outside in hunting jackets and full gear, often holding up dead ducks and geese and pheasants by the feet, sometimes bending over dead deer and even the late bear I was standing on now. Over the mantel was a huge photograph of the family that immediately reminded me of the one of Victor King and his current trophy wife—Mother was seated and Dad had an arm around the upper chair, with a smile of ownership. Two things made the photo creepy—first, it was not a color shot, rather one of those pastel hand-colored jobs; and second, the boy, at about age seven, was sitting on his mama’s lap. Somebody had a seriously screwed-up upbringing. Also on the mantel were what I took to be two cremation urns, a fancy pink-and-blue one that said MOTHER

and its simple dark brown mate saying FATHER.

If Melodie and her camera guy were being held hostage here, the basement seemed a good place to check. But it turned out to be one big space, empty of anything but a washer and drier setup that was the only item in this house that didn’t seem to date back a couple of decades. Upstairs I found bedrooms, and from the look of the rooms, one was Daddy’s, one was Mommy’s, and another Baby Boy’s. Daddy’s was as much a den as a bedroom with a heavily antlered deer’s head and some mounted fish and various hunting prints. Several bookcases, too, running to Zane Grey and



Louis L’Amour. Mommy had a very feminine room, all blues and pinks and frills, including floral wallpaper and a four-poster bed. In her closet were clothes dating to the ’80s. Neither room smelled musty. The clothing had a freshly laundered scent. No mothballs at work up here. Somebody was maintaining these two shrines. What about Baby Boy’s room? Well, it was as messy as the rest of the house was neat. A clutter of magazines, books, VHS tapes, DVDs, and video games covered the floor. A small but new-looking TV was on a stand with electronic gear below—not ’70s and ’80s vintage. Time had moved on in this space but in a messy way. This was a hoarder’s hideaway with pictures of naked women from men’s magazines scotch-taped to wall-papered walls. He’d have to crawl over junk to get to the single, small, unmade bed, which was red and black and in the shape of a racing car. A laptop computer shared his nightstand with magazines (Popular Mechanics, Hustler), several soda cans, and a box of Kleenex. I poked in the dresser and saw neatness again, stacked and freshly laundered work shirts and jeans, including overalls. Jockey shorts and T-shirts were outnumbered by pairs of long johns. Then I looked in the closet. Hanging there, like crucified martyrs, were the dried, neatly stitched-together skins of at least a dozen humans. The women outnumbered the men by half. Hangers slipped under the loose shoulders held them in neat array, eyeless masklike faces hanging backward like hoods. Even the feet were still attached, like grotesque Dr. Dentons. Only the hands were gone. I stepped back. My tongue was thick in my mouth. My heart was starting to pound, and a burger I’d wolfed down at that diner was trying to make a break for it. I have seen a lot of things in my long and storied career, but I had never seen the like of this, and I am here to tell you that Mrs. Hammer’s little boy Michael was scared shitless.



I got the hell out of there. Out of the room, out of the house, moving in a tight circle as I went, ready for him from wherever he might spring, some grotesque middle-aged version of that jug-eared, cow-eyed boy. I had my .45 in hand and if the man of the castle, or whatever the hell he was, came at me, I was ready to blast him to kingdom come. But he didn’t, and I was outside, gulping in cool air, and darkness had fallen. Hadn’t it, though. Still no sign of a vehicle. Gripping the .45, I returned to the barn. If Melodie and Jason were being held anywhere on this property, that seemed the most likely place. I didn’t want to deal with that padlock on the barn’s big front doors—if the owner showed up, he could spot that too easily. But there was a smaller set of double doors in back, also with a padlock, and the butt of the .45 knocked that off, hasp and all. I went in. Haylofts loomed on either side, and a row of empty animal stalls were along the left, with various farm implements, big and small, arranged under the loft overhang at right, on workbenches, on Peg-Board. The floor was poured cement, much newer than the weathered, gray outer structure. The cement sloped to several drains. Some pools of oil indicated vehicles might on occasion get stored here, but the most striking sight was the small thresher machine—if that’s what it was—that sat in the middle of the space. About the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, it was a patched-together thing, some of it bare metal, some parts bright red, others green, salvaged or scavenged from other farm equipment. Oddly, it immediately recalled that pile of mismatched and chewed-up human parts that had started me on this search—it was pieces of this machine and that one welded together. To this city boy, it seemed a thresher, but the top section was flat with conveyor rollers and seemed to feed a boxy metallic maw, while on the other side of the thing, below, was another squared-off spout where whatever you fed in came out. A big black metal tray was under there . . . and I knew. It was a skinning machine. You laid your victim on top, mercifully dead (one would hope), and that seemed likely because



there were no straps. The body would pass on the miniconveyer through the metallic innards whose blades separated flesh from muscle and bone and organ. The design was as clever as it was fiendish, because the blades wouldn’t cut and churn until well within the metal maw, making blood spatter little or nil. I could even see the handles where you lifted the upper part, like a photocopier, to remove the “garment” just created. The residue, in no particular shape or form, would plop into the tray for disposal. Normally the warped genius who had devised this beauty might have gotten rid of that refuse in any number of ways. Maybe there were pigs somewhere around here he could feed it to. Maybe this human mulch enriched his soil, who knew? But I’d been right—he’d moved from grave-robbing to waylaying motorists, only he’d made a bad choice stopping Victor King. My hunch was King indeed had been stepping out on his beautiful young wife, because I didn’t figure the inventor of this machine would have stopped him if a lovely young woman hadn’t been along for the ride. Then, in recent days, it became necessary for Baby Boy to leave Victor King’s hand next to the latest chewed-up corpse, to stop the hunt for the producer. Only the hands were gone. He cut off the hands and saved them. Why? Perhaps the hands didn’t made a good trip through his gizmo. Too many fingers and working parts. Or maybe he just liked to have full range of expression for his artistic fingers when he was doing his dance. Maybe he was even smart enough to save the hands for the very purpose he’d put King’s to—allowing a victim to turn up dead, if a disappearance was making too much heat. I called Pat on the cell. Quickly I told him where I was, that I’d wandered into a psycho’s playground, and said to inform the locals and get out here himself. “Any sign of the newscaster?” he asked. “No,” I said, and then I heard it. The muffled sound of someone trying to talk through a restraint.



“Just get out here,” I said, and clicked off. I’d been so transfixed by the skinner that I hadn’t searched the place, and in the two stalls nearest those front double doors, I found them—the kid Jason, naked, his mouth duct-taped, his hands ducttaped behind him, his ankles, too. Unconscious. Melodie was awake in her stall, her eyes huge and luminous in the glowing face, streaked with dirt and tears. She’d been given the duct-tape treatment, too, and like her cameraman, lay sprawled on the cement floor, which was dusted with hay. She, too, was naked, her skin pale and lovely despite the obscene display. Bending over her, I removed the tape and soon she was in my arms, hysterical, crying, gasping, half-screaming, “Mr. Hammer! Mr. Hammer! Thank God.” “Easy, baby. Is that kid okay?” “That crazy farmer gave Jason some kind of drug—something in a big hypo, like you’d give a horse. I don’t know if he’s alive or not.” I checked in the stall next door. The kid had a pulse. On the slow side maybe, but a pulse. She was at my side, naked and shivering but also demanding. “Get me out of here! You have got to get us out of here.” I slipped an arm around her, her flesh cool and smooth to the touch. “The cops are on the way.” “Can’t you drive us?” “My car’s too far. We’re better off waiting.” Her eyes and nostrils flared. “You can’t be serious!” “Your van’s out there, but God knows where the keys are. I’d have to carry that cameraman of yours like a baby, and if our host drove up while we were trying to get to the highway, or to my car . . . no. You just go back in your stall.” “What?” “Go back in your stall, and put that duct-tape loosely over your mouth. Play possum.”



“I will not!” My hand gripped her shoulder tight. “You will. Put your hands behind your back and pretend nothing’s changed since you last saw him. With luck, the cops’ll be here before he shows. If not, I don’t want him coming in and thinking anything’s wrong.” She got it. “Before you jump him, you mean.” “Something like that.” Reluctantly she did as I told her. When she was properly in place, I leaned down and gave her a kiss on the forehead, told her everything would be all right. Like Daddy. Then I went to the stall adjacent to Jason, where I figured to position myself, and had yet another shock. A pile of hands in a big stainless steel tray were in there. Like they were ready to be put out on a salad bar. Some were shrunken and mummified. Others looked fresher. I took the next stall down. And waited. Waited for the cop sirens. Waited as what was left of dusk darkened to night through those wire-and-glass windows. When he came in, he was wearing somebody. Some beautiful woman, most likely, but Melodie’s crazy farmer wasn’t beautiful. He was hideous. He was inside the skin, with its long flowing hair and empty drooping breast sacks, his hands popping out the sleeves of dried stitched flesh, and the cow eyes were huge and wild in the empty facial sockets. What happened to that little boy who grew up in that house? What were his daddy issues? What were his mommy issues? Something to do with killing and skinning and stuffing dead creatures, something else to do with artistic leanings and maybe the wrong feelings toward a mommy who had him sit in her lap. Somebody, other than God, had made this monster. But I would leave it to my betters to feel sorry for him. Me, I had no intention of letting him plead



insanity and wind up in a minimum security hospital where they could untangle his wires and release him, or maybe before that, he’d just go over the fence some night. Unless those cops showed very damn soon, I was going to kill the bastard. And I was just moving out of the stall when he rushed over to a bench where he touched a finger to a button on a vintage cassette player and a very distorted, scratchy version of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” began to play. Behind him the double doors were open and moonlight crept in and smothered him in ivory, and he began to dance. Dancing in someone else’s skin. Dancing in the moonlight. And you know what? He wasn’t half bad. I stepped out and showed him the .45. He froze in mid-balletic stance. “Who . . . who are you?” I didn’t have a chance to say anything, because Melodie made a break for it. She had seen those open doors and he was positioned in front of her, where she didn’t think he could see her, and she just went for it. But he did see her, and grabbed her from behind, flung her around by the wrist, making a human shield of her, all that glowing, living flesh blocking that crepey stitched Frankenstein suit with a madman in it. And as I closed in, he moved defiantly my way and kicked out with a foot and turned on that thresher, and it chugged and grunted and groaned and whined. Was it hungry? “I’ll stick her in it!” he yelled. He had to yell, because his contraption was loud, blotting out the cassette player, and it seemed to shake the old barn’s walls, and to its churning rhythm, we moved in our own dance until he was under the loft overhang and snatched a sharp sickle off the wall. Then its blade was at her throat like he was the grim reaper and I was just some damn human being who couldn’t do a goddamn thing about it. And I couldn’t.



Not unless I could get a clear shot at his head, shutting off his motor reflexes. Then Melodie would be fine, and he’d fall to the cement as limp as his skin suit. But he was on the small side, and she was a tall drink of water, and I could not find a decent damn trajectory. Meanwhile, that goddamn machine chugged and grunted and whined, wanting to be useful, wanting to be fed. I raised my left hand in surrender, knelt, and set the .45 on the cement. Then I stood and raised the other hand. He peeked up over her shoulder and smiled. Putting my gun down and my hands up had been enough to satisfy him. He shoved her to one side and ran through the double doors. I had the .45 in hand in seconds and put one in his ass that sent him sprawling to the gravel. The .45’s roar was a percussive grace note in the terrible chugging song of the skinning machine. I ran out there, throwing a long shadow in the moonlight and pulled back the human hood to expose his jug-eared head and grabbed a handful of thick, greasy hair and dragged him back into the barn. Melodie had Jason on his feet. The naked kid was coming around, and she had removed the duct tape from mouth, wrists, and ankles. “Go wait over by the house,” I said, working it up over the industrial chug of the machine. “I’ll be there in a while.” She nodded and drunk-walked him away. But as she went, she looked over her shoulder at me. Very small, her voice called out: “My father always liked you! How you did things!” Sirens finally. Distant. Probably just enough time. Because I knew what the girl meant. I dragged him by the hair and he made a snail trail of red on the cement. Then I stripped the human garment off him and rested it as respectfully as I could a distance away. He was crawling toward the double doors, and was almost there when I stepped in front of him and shut us in, the only light provided



by the moon coming in those wired windows. He was screaming and kicking, a big hairless baby but for his head of hair and pubic curls, and he howled when I slammed him on his back on top of his invention, hard enough to daze him, his feet at the maw. The machine was still chugging, the conveyor belt going, blades whirring, and he was immediately traveling into his own dark imagination. His screams lasted until he was in up to his knees, and I’d been right, there was no blood blowback at all, just a spattery sound you could barely make out over the mechanical music. He was just about to pass out when I got it in. I grinned at him. “More than one way to skin a cat,” I said.



Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins collaborated on numerous projects, including twelve anthologies, three films, and the Mike Danger comic book series. Spillane was the bestselling American mystery writer of the twentieth century. He introduced Mike Hammer in I, the Jury (1947), which sold in the millions, as did the six tough mysteries that soon followed. The controversial PI has been the subject of a radio show, comic strip, and two television series; numerous gritty movies have been made from Spillane novels, notably director Robert Aldrich’s seminal film noir, Kiss Me Deadly (1955), and The Girl Hunters (1963), in which the writer played his famous hero. Collins has earned an unprecedented sixteen Private Eye Writers of America Shamus nominations, winning for True Detective (1983) and Stolen Away (1991) in his Nathan Heller series, which includes the recent Bye Bye, Baby. His graphic novel Road to Perdition is the basis of the Academy Award– winning film. A filmmaker in the Midwest, he has had half a dozen feature screenplays produced, including The Last Lullaby (2008), based on his innovative Quarry series. As “Barbara Allan,” he and his wife, Barbara, write the Trash ‘n’ Treasures mystery series (recently Antiques Disposal). Both Spillane (who died in 2006) and Collins received the Private Eye Writers’ life achievement award, the Eye.